Turning Tide? US Death Penalty Support Hits 4-Decade Low

A new poll conducted by Pew Research Center finds that support for the death penalty is at its lowest in 40 years, as 49 percent of respondents are in support of authorized killings in murder cases while 42 percent are against.

Disapproval of the death penalty has not been this high since the US Supreme Court banned capital punishment for four years in 1972. 

Approval reached its peak with rising crime rates in the 1980s, before beginning a descent in the 1990s.

Conducted from August 23 to September 2, the poll noted differences of opinion on the death penalty across lines of gender and race. 

"Even as support for the death penalty has declined across nearly all groups, demographic differences remain: Men are more likely to back the use of the death penalty than women, white Americans are more supportive than blacks and Hispanics, and attitudes on the issue also differ by age, education and along religious lines," Pew reported. 

The study reported only a modest difference of opinion across lines of age.

Unsurprisingly sentiments differed greatly between the two mainstream US political parties, as only 34 percent of Democrats approve of the death penalty, opposed to 72 percent of Republicans. 

Independent voters are much closer in sentiment, according to the poll. 

"For the first time in decades, independents are as likely to oppose the use of the death penalty (45 percent) as they are to favor it (44 percent). 

The share of independents who support capital punishment has fallen 13 points since last year (from 57 percent). 

This was chiefly due to an increase of pro-capital punishment feelings among Democrat-leaning independents."

Six states have stopped using the death penalty since 2009, bringing the total to 20, including Washington DC.  

The margin of error for the poll was 3.7 percent in both directions.

Published time 20:16 Toronto